TW: Suicide, Eating Disorder, OCD.
@mugamnesty’s #MadCovidDiaries 2.5.2020
Approaching work – just around the corner. Beloved violin, on my back, it’s there, check, got it. Backpack, yes, got it. Was there a third item? Why would I bring a third item to work? Can I see myself with a third item? If a colleague saw me with an extra bag what would they say? I imagine a situation where a senior colleague asks why I’m carrying my blue tote bag (which I usually leave at home). No, it’s not logical, it’s not possible. All I have is my violin and my backpack. Got it. Didn’t dump my bag in the river. Check. Tick. Can I see it ‘click’ in my mind? For the love of God, move on.
No, fine, onto clothing. Shoes, winter coat, check. That’s the ‘outer’ layer of clothing. I can see in my head that I’ve got it, just as anyone would wear a coat and shoes. Fine. Just like someone else would wear in this freezing cold. It’s the bare minimum. Hat, yes, scarf, yes, gloves, yes, great. See it. Click. Fine. Deep breath. I’m wearing an extra sweater. Debatable as to whether I need it but it’s there nonetheless. I’ve got everything. An extra sweater. Please don’t make me check again.
There’s no logical way I could have lost anything but I have everything. I’ve not been careless. I’m not ungrateful. I could have dropped something! I don’t have everything because it doesn’t ‘click’ and I can’t see it in my mind. Shit. But I do have everything? Oh God, that French guy is standing by the door. He will say good morning. And there’s Sandra, she’s always chatty. I can’t focus on anything more than checking right now.
I’m in the elevator on the way to my locker on the 3rd floor. Still checking. I can’t breathe and I’m slightly sweaty. I’m clutching my keys in one hand and phone in the other, because that way I don’t have to check that they’re still in my pocket.
I manage to leave my coat and jumper in my locker, along with my wallet. I stand there and stare at the contents of my locker because I MIGHT not have left my wallet in there; and before I know it all my money could be gone. Is it there? Stare at it. Notice the angle of the wallet to the shelf. It’s there. I’ll still have all my valuables at the end of the day. Nobody else is going to run off with my credit card. What would I do if they did? Oh God, I might lose it, I’ll never be trusted with money again. I could lose everything.
The voice in my head is stronger than I am. It’s hard to fight. I can tackle it in the very best of circumstances; if I’ve had a decent amount of sleep, the correct dosage of medication and the right food – and even then my ability to shut it down depends on my environment and the people surrounding me. Often I can’t, and I’ll limp through conversations not knowing what was said because my head is spinning, checking, shouting, looping through what I might be missing– even if I’m clutching my bag and my violin in my hands.
Over the past few weeks I felt guilty that I was more relaxed than usual. I am finally finding it easier to challenge intrusive thoughts, but I only realised a few days ago that quarantine eliminates hours of checking from my daily life. Staying at home is easy! I don’t have to pack a bag, lock any doors, or turn off electrical appliances. I moved home to be with my family, and my mum is the one to switch off lights and lock the doors at night.
It’s not that I didn’t love my pre-pandemic life. I had my tiny, beautiful apartment in a gorgeous city. I loved my job. I had friends nearby and I went everywhere either by bike or on foot. It was all I had ever wanted, and I can’t wait to return there if this pandemic ever calms down.
However I was leaving empty hours in my schedule for OCD. I have numbered systems and routines for compulsive checking, but I can easily take twenty or thirty minutes to simply get my coat on and leave in the morning.
I’d leave for work every morning worrying that I would be burgled or something would catch fire. I would ‘check’ that the kitchen was okay by imagining a friend looking at it and them thinking “she must be at work because the kettle and toaster are unplugged.” I was so obsessed by getting everything ‘just right’ that I couldn’t see when everything was fine. My mind couldn’t take anything in.
Deciding on discipline, I set rules for myself. I was not allowed to worry about the front door once I was outside of the building. I told myself to keep walking. This worked, but then my mind would flip and I’d suddenly be checking what I was carrying with me instead, like at the beginning of this article. They say you ‘stop smoking and start drinking.’ It’s true.
I’ve had OCD since my early teens. I see intrusive images of me stabbing my family to death. I pass a colleague in the corridor and worry obsessively that instead of greeting them I’ll have declared my undying love, or told them to fuck off. I am sent into deathly panics when I’m travelling because I’ll be overwhelmed by the number of things I have to check. OCD conspires with my eating disorder and I try to ‘see’ in my head what I have eaten each day before dinner, because I’m terrified of becoming fat. At its worst, I would watch from my bedroom window each time family members left the house; I was convinced that if I didn’t watch, something bad would happen to them and I’d be the one who caused it.
I’ve heard so many people talk about OCD like it’s a disease of logic and correctness. It’s anything but. It is entirely based on fear and lies. I really wish it was about organised underwear and lining up pencils, because there is nothing logical about checking a locked door eighteen times instead of twice. And what to do when the neighbours notice? Once I had a nasty fall – and more recently I was hit by a bike – all because I was mentally checking that I’d left everything correctly at home. I wasn’t paying any attention to where I was walking. Each time I thought I’d learnt my lesson but it just made everything worse. (Mr Cyclist, you probably aren’t reading this but I am really really sorry!)
I know it doesn’t make sense. I feel like my general fear at ‘life’ lodges in my brain and causes a short circuit that makes me go round and round in circles so I cannot focus on anything else. It’s distressing to the point that I’ve attempted suicide. I am embarrassed and fed up – although this is the first time I’ve ever had any perspective on it. I’m grateful for this lockdown, as it’s about time that I take a rest, challenge my mind and make a change for when things go back to normal. I am forever fighting OCD but I hope someday it will lift.
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